With just three games left on the schedule, and the Quakes in eighth place in the West, it’s “Do or Die” time for the “Never Say Die” kids. It will be a tough task for San Jose with second-place Timbers in town, a team that has had San Jose’s number since 2011–Portland leads the overall series with eight wins, three losses, and seven draws since their promotion into MLS.
The Quakes won the first meeting at Avaya 3-0. Portland answered with a win of their own at Providence Park. The rubber match will determine if the Quakes can continue their playoff push, or possibly be all-but-eliminated with two games left on the schedule.
The Timbers have a red hot Diego Valeri rested and ready for tonight’s match. Valeri leads all of MLS in goals scored with 20; he also has a nine-game goal scoring streak, with 10 total goals over that span. Fanendo Adi is questionable to play, and probably will be on the bench. Expect Portland to run the offense that’s been clicking for them for the past few months, a 4-2-3-1 with Zarek Valentin, Larrys Mabiala, Liam Ridgewell, and Roy Miller on the backline, a double-pivot with Diego Chara and Darlington Nagbe moved back to take the place of the injured David Guzman, Dairon Asprilla, Valeri, and Sebastian Blanco on the attack feeding Darren Mattocks, who will probably be filling in for the injured Fanendo Adi. In goal, Jeff Attinella should start.
The Quakes have a serious problem in the midfield: they cannot move the ball through the central midfield and set up quality scoring chances, which was the key to their 3-0 win in May. Don’t be surprised to see a 4-5-1 disguised as a 4-3-3 to compensate for the lack of midfield presence. The Quakes will probably be missing Nick Lima, who rolled his ankle in Wednesday’s loss to Chicago. Kofi Sarkodie will probably start (although at this point, why not try out Kip Colvey?) at right-back. Francois Affolter has been a disaster since his arrival in San Jose and probably won’t start in such a crucial match. Leitch should return to basics with Flo Jungwirth and Victor Bernardez as the center-back pairing with Shea Salinas continuing to start at left-back. Anibal Godoy will start–and pick up a yellow card–as the defensive mid with Jackson Yueill and Vako playing wide. Chris Wondolowski, Danny Hoesen, and Marco Urena will probably start as the three forwards, but don’t be surprised to see both Wondo and Hoesen dropping back frequently to try and control the midfield.
The formation that would give San Jose the best chance of winning is simple: a diamond 4-4-2 with the same backline, Godoy as the #6, Tommy as the right-wing, Yueill as the left-wing, and Vako as the CAM serving up Wondo and Hoesen. Yueill and Tommy are strong on the ball, and Vako’s bread-and-butter is as a central attacking mid. Quite simply, Urena’s magic during the World Cup qualifiers has disappeared while Hoesen has been more than consistent with his minutes on the attack.
Final Score Prediction
Huge losses to D.C. United and Chicago Fire over the past week have not instilled much confidence that the Quakes can win in “must win” games. Missing Nick Lima and possibly starting Imperiale and/or Affolter also does not bode well for San Jose. Then there’s the trouble inside the Quakes locker room . . . it’s anyone’s guess if they can manage to rise above it, or let it sink their 2017 season. As a fan, I’m saying they finally show up against a Western Conference rival and win 2-1. However, if Imperiale or Affolter start with Sarkodie, I doubt the Quakes can contain Portland’s attack, and draw 2-2.